The disability sector like other industries is facing an unprecedented crisis. F2L spoke to several suppliers about the far-reaching impact of the coronavirus on their business, notwithstanding the fast-changing nature of it. People with chronic health conditions, the exchange rate and concerns about self-isolation in a lockdown were among the challenges being confronted.

According AutoMobility director Jeff Watters, a major concern is around clients with compromised health and/or respiratory conditions. “We have enacted higher cleanliness protocols for our demonstration vehicles and make contact with clients prior to meeting with them to ensure our representatives are fit and well and the client, their carers/family/OT are also fit and well. From there, we will confirm that they still want to meet,” he said.

Watters said while the sector is under immense pressure his business is reasonably well prepared with work to carry out and some cash reserves, however going into lockdown the situation does becomes difficult. “We also need to maintain our business continuity to ensure we have works to perform when the virus issue has passed.”

He said self-isolation appears to be effective and many of his clients with disabilities would agree that they could self-isolate for four weeks without people coming into, or leaving their home, and this would probably ensure they are not exposed to the virus. “However, if the disability community had to self-isolate for 16 weeks, doing so without any potential exposure would be difficult.”

Major concerns emerging from disability clients of Sunrise Medical are the restrictions to hospitals although NDIS clients are still welcoming dealers to measure and trial, was the view of the situation from marketing manager Matt Butterworth.

He said the biggest challenge is the impact coming from the Australian dollar exchange rate and market uncertainty. “As we are an essential service to the community any shutdown should not affect our business, as in other parts of the world exemptions have been granted.”

The company offices are not accepting visitors or non-staff members to its sites but the business remains fully operational, providing customer and technical services, and is operating at full capacity. “However, our sales, marketing and clinical education teams have postponed all in-services and face-to-face meetings until further notice,” Butterworth said.

Another company scaling back its level of face-to-face contact and in-home visits is Paragon Mobility. “We will continue to conduct in-person trials on a case-by-case basis but any non-essential requests will be postponed until the situation improves,” director David Fagan said. “We will implement a safety checklist prior to any in-home visit.” For clients having difficulties with equipment and requiring support, assistance can be provided via video meetings. He said office services can be carried out remotely enabling clients, therapists and additional stakeholders to stay in touch.

“While not on the front line, our industry is currently considered an essential service, particularly in relation to servicing and repairs of AT equipment. Our organisation will continue to operate on a scaled back ‘business as usual’ approach, with a keen eye on developments nationally,” he said.

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